How Many Parents Do Adoptees Have?

I was in a unicorns and rainbows adoption group for two months. It came up in discussion that yes, a child’s birthmother is her mother, and that child is her birthmother’s daughter. So, the birthmother can say, “My daughter,” and “mom” and be correct.

One person staunchly fought this. Her children have one set of parents and one only. So, I asked the Creating a Family group this question:

How many parents do adoptees have?

CAF has adoptive parents, birth parents, and adoptees. I asked the adoptive parents to ask their children for their opinions as well.

The vast majority (about 26) answered two sets. Several more (9) answered three sets, including step-parents or foster parents in their answers. About 12 people answered an unspecified number more than one, often saying, “As many as the child wants.” The bottom line: All but five people said adoptees have more than one set of parents.

Four adoptees stated that they each have only one set of parents – their adoptive parents. Two of them were in closed adoptions. One is also an adoptive parent, and she considers her children to have two sets of parents. Only one adoptive parent said she was the only parent her child has.

One late-discovery adoptee doesn’t consider his adoptive parents to be parents at all.

My personal opinion is that adoptees have at least two sets of parents. What they call them – mom, mama whatever, or first name – isn’t as important as recognizing that there are other parents in their lives. I’ve read a lot of adult adoptees saying that their adoptive parents – usually their adoptive mothers – never acknowledged their birth families, basically preventing them from having any noticeable feelings about their birth parents, a fact that really, truly hurt them. I know I never want my kids to feel that way, and I would hope other adoptive parents would agree.

In conclusion, I think the best answer came from Lisa, an adult adoptee, who said:

“The adults make the labeling of important people far too difficult. It really is not hard for children to comprehend who is who and call them whatever they want. A label does not take away from anyone or anything.”

6 thoughts on “How Many Parents Do Adoptees Have?

  1. I don’t know if I agree with the idea that a label doesn’t take away from anyone. We’re a society that puts so much emphasis on labeling. How many fights have erupted over the label “marriage” and who is and who isn’t allowed to use it. One of my girlfriends felt like she had to fight to be able to use the label “infertile” that because she got pregnant without medical intervention, that “real infertiles” didn’t want her to steal their label, in spite of the fact that she met the definition for infertility.
    And I have single-parent friends who resent that the biological 2nd parent gets to use the label “parent” (or “mom” or “dad”) when they invest nothing in their child. They resented that the label was a gift to that parent when they felt like they were earning it every day. I can see the same argument being made by adoptive parents, including your original insistent mother that her children have only one set of parents.

    Ultimately though, I think the definition of what “my family” means falls on the person who owns the definition, the child, who gets to choose what people in his or her life are family; parents, siblings, friends. There’s the old joke about how you can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family. It’s just not true. We choose how we identify and who we choose to identify as our family.

  2. I am an adult adoptee, and I think my mother is the woman who gave me life. The woman in whose body I grew, and whose DNA I carry. She is always, and forever my mother, just like all the other people in the world who were born of woman.

  3. If you tell an adopted person that they have two mothers one who adopted and raised them and one who gave birth to them, the name of the one who gave birth had damn well be listed as mother on their birth certificate, otherwise how could they ever take the woman who adopted them seriously?

    Women who undertake a minipulation of fact on paper, while saying the very opposite in private, quickly find themselves raising children who treat them with like regard and similar duplicitious candor.

    Telling the truth with words while lying on paper achieves the perception of honesty while reeping the rewards of deceit.

    • Thank you for taking the time to comment. I’ve written on the topic of amended birth certificates. I disagree that the genetic parent needs to be listed on the short form birth certificate, which is often used as a certificate of legal parentage, more than as a record of birth. I do believe that all parents – genetic, biological, and legal – should be on the long form birth certificate.

  4. I was adopted as an infant. When I was very young I called my adopted mother “mom”. I was about 11 yrs. old when I became fully aware of what adoption was. From that point on I was always uncomfortable calling her mom. I just didn’t see her as my mother. My mother will always be the woman who gave birth to me. I met my first-mom when I was 16. I’m 57 now and I still feel the same way.

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